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China’s military is going global. In the coming decade, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) could be well-positioned to influence events and conduct a wide range of missions, including limited warfighting, beyond the Western Pacific. The United States and its close allies, who have enjoyed largely unobstructed access to the world’s oceans for the last three decades, will need to adjust to new military realities as the PLA makes its presence felt in faraway theaters.
Although the Department of Defense has embraced the concept of "great power competition" as a planning and investment guide, it has yet to fully adapt its processes and priorities to maximize U.S. advantages in this environment. As the United States develops new defense technologies and concepts, policy planners should consider which ones to reveal, as well as the timing and extent to which they are revealed. As evidenced by Chinese and Russian disclosures, these considerations include not only concealing systems to delay an adversary’s response, but also disclosing information for strategic effect, such as provoking competitors to expend resources on defensive countermeasures based upon an incomplete grasp of a perceived capability.
Given the rapid pace of change throughout Asia in recent decades, assessing China’s longer-term trajectory – and that of the Indo-Pacific region as a whole – represents a huge challenge for defense and security planners. Attempts to predict China’s strategic posture 15 to 30 years from now are hampered by a far more volatile security environment than that which governed the Cold War era.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) seeks to shape the external environment to its liking through several means, ranging from coercive uses of military power to economic statecraft to influence operations. Beijing’s global campaign to influence perceptions and policies abroad, in particular, has drawn media attention and, increasingly, government scrutiny. In Europe, the CCP has opened a broad political front that could have implications for the region’s long-term policies toward China and for transatlantic relations. There is thus a growing need for policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic to better understand the goals, strategies, and methods of the actors that promote CCP influence in Europe.
Over the past decade, the Chinese navy overtook Japan’s maritime service in critical measures of power, including fleet size, aggregate tonnage, and firepower. China eclipsing Japan in naval power could introduce unwelcome strategic trends. It may well fuel an even more intense competition between Tokyo and Beijing, two seafaring rivals that already regard each other with deep suspicion. Japan’s displacement at sea could increase the probability of deterrence failure in the next crisis. It threatens to undercut U.S. confidence in Japan’s capacity to fulfill its allied responsibilities, sowing acrimony within the security partnership.
In an era of renewed great power competition, one of the most significant challenges the United States and its allies face is the need to deny China or Russia the ability to launch opportunistic acts of aggression against an ally or partner in the Western Pacific or Eastern Europe. There is increasing concern among defense policymakers in the United States and its allies and partners that China and Russia are developing the ability to launch aggression rapidly against states on their periphery under the cover of increasingly capable reconnaissance-strike networks.